Speech: Flavell – Protected Disclosures Amendment

Press Release – The Maori Party

Exactly one month ago, my colleague, Rahui Katene, stood at the second reading of this Bill and spoke to the concepts of accountability, transparency, credibility as at the core of this legislation. I thought it was a pretty good place to start …

Protected Disclosures Amendment Bill
Te Ururoa Flavell, MP for Waiariki
Thursday 30 April 2009; 4pm

Exactly one month ago, my colleague, Rahui Katene, stood at the second reading of this Bill and spoke to the concepts of accountability, transparency, credibility as at the core of this legislation.

I thought it was a pretty good place to start in this third and final reading, to remind ourselves of these core values.

I am told that perhaps the most explicit proof of these core values is the way in which the New Zealand’s Transparency International Corruption Perception Index ranking is maintained or improved.

In 2006, New Zealand’s score was 9.6 on a 10-point scale, meaning it ranked first equal on the index with Finland and Iceland as apparently the least corrupt country in the world.

Mind you, I don’t know if I’d say that too loudly this week in Christchurch where close to 470 workers are perched in limbo land, waiting to see how they will fare from the collapse of clothing maker Lane Walker Rudkin.

Maxine Gay, the secretary of the union’s clothing and textiles section, she didn’t muck around, she said quote;

“Hundreds of jobs are at stake and we are sure that poor management is at the heart of the problem”.

I’m not about to move into dangerous territory and say that Lane Walker Rudkins operations were corrupt but there is little doubt that their company has been unprofitable, forced into taking on greater amounts of bank debt.

Now as I understand, Lane Walker Rudkins wouldn’t have been affected by this Bill. Business New Zealand took care of that.

I believe this to be the case because in their public submissions to the Bill the New Zealand Employers Federation and the New Zealand Manufacturers Federation recommended that any references to the private sector should be omitted from the Bill.

Their advice – which was taken up in the Bill – was that the role of the Ombudsman was primarily to investigate complaints against public sector organizations – not private.

And so as I consider the fate of the people who were working in the textiles industry, I wonder how their interests would be protected if there had been serious wrongdoing evident.

How would these employees be looked after while they watch yet another company collapse from poor management?

It is a most appropriate time to be reviewing our international status as one of the least corrupt countries in the world.

Is it truly that we are pure and green, a haven of peace in which corruption has no place?

Or is our corruption-free status more a reflection of what we measure?

Perhaps a stronger barometer of public opinion might be gauged from the casualties of the finance company collapses. They have had to look on with amazement at the Directors of Companies who have carried on with their exclusive lifestyles having ripped off ordinary New Zealanders.

I wonder, for instance, how the 17,000 investors in Hanover Finance can reconcile the extravagant international birthday party of co-owner Eric Watson with the small matter of a debt of $553 million owed by the company.

According to estimates, research shows that white-collar crime is approximately forty times that of benefit fraud.

One can only wonder why then, we don’t have the same enforcement mechanisms and policy focus given to these offenders as when the debt is owed to the Crown in the shape of Work and Income New Zealand.

We spend very little time discussing organised white collar crime, and I have to wonder why.

How can we accept that some offenders through the resources they have at their disposal, are able to drag cases on ad infinitum, to continue to enjoy luxurious lifestyles financed by the proceeds of their greed?

Mr Speaker in the course of researching this Bill, I came across a letter from a former Detective, Tata Parata of Stokes Valley. He stated, no doubt tongue in cheek,

“Maori offenders should wise up and seek a better return for their criminal pursuits. Why are white-collar individuals with dollar sign profiles able to whisk easy money from gullible folks for returns that fail to materialise?”

Fascinating as it is, corporate corruption and wrong-doing is only of interest in this Bill, if it occurred in the public sector.

This Bill is focused purely and squarely on how to ensure the better protection of whistleblowers who have laid complaints of wrongdoing against public sector organisations.

And I want to make quite clear, despite my concerns about the exclusion of private sector organisations from being obliged to comply with a request for information about an organisation’s internal procedures, the Bill is still a very good bill.

It is a good bill in terms of clarifying issues of interpretation and inconsistencies which had got in the way of proper use of the legislative procedures.

We in the Maori Party believe that it is right and just, that those who blow the whistle should be entitled to receive the protection of the Protected Disclosures Act 2000.

If we are to encourage people to come forward to provide information of serious wrongdoing they need to know they are safe to do so.

It is too late, once the whistle has been blown, for an organisation to suddenly realise its internal procedures are lacking.

An individual needs to know that their identity will remain confidential and that there are transparent procedures and consistent practices in place before they put pen to paper.

They need to know there will be an appropriate authority to respond to their disclosures, and that if their complaint goes through to the Ombudsman, that it will be managed in a professional and sensitive manner.

We were pleased with the amendment which affects section 30 of the Ombudsmen Act, making it an offence to refuse to provide the Ombudsmen with the information specified in that provision.

We support the extension of human protections to those making disclosures of serious wrong doing. They must be protected, they must be able to provide free and frank advice.

The Maori Party supports this Bill, and we support it in the name of human rights.

ENDS

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